Students protest to end the UMass housing crisis and over enrollment

The protesters advocated for public university housing instead of privately-owned apartments

Students gathered outside of Whitmore Administration Building on Feb. 28 to protest poor housing conditions, admitting students past campus capacity and the new private apartments on campus. 

Led by the UMass Chapter Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), the students demanded guaranteed housing for all students and more public, on-campus housing rather than the privately-managed Fieldstone-Slate Apartments. The group of 20 people also urged administration to stop over-enrollment to alleviate the housing crisis as well as overcrowding of classes and dining halls. 

“There are students living in their cars today. There are students who do not have housing, who are forced to choose between paying exorbitant rates to rent from an apartment in this area…and dropping out of school,” sophomore Ethan Salvesen said. “This is not a decision that students should have to be making, and students only have to make it because this administration is pursuing profits over people”

The protest was galvanized by YikYak threads expressing frustrations and unease with UMass housing. YDSA president Hunter Cohen noticed the housing demand in the Amherst area has increased specifically over the fall 2022 semester.

UMass addressed the lack of student housing by building Fieldstone-Slate Apartments. The new building along Massachusetts Avenue will add 623 beds for undergraduates and 201 beds for graduate students. The private rental management company Greystar Management Services will oversee the property for 65 years, and UMass will inherit management at the end of the contract. 

YDSA condemns the complex’s private management by Greystar, which accumulated multiple class-action lawsuits for violating antitrust laws, charging illegal fees and improper eviction

While UMass attempts to make accommodations for the growing interest in on-campus housing, students are still concerned. 

“There’s no guaranteed housing even though I signed up for the appointment and that kind of sucks because I live like two hours away and there’s no way I can afford to live in Amherst,” freshman Amren Hossain said. 

The protest began with Cohen contextualizing the protest’s demands before passing the megaphone to students to testify about their experiences with UMass Residential Life.

“I’m disabled so I have housing accommodations, but they don’t have enough housing even for disabled folks so there’s no guarantee that I will get those accommodations or the housing,” freshman Silas Logan said. “I’m also out of state so like, if I don’t get housing and I don’t get the accommodations, there’s no feasible way that I could, like live here.”

Mitchel Brecht was one of the 130 students UMass housed in the Econo Lodge, a hotel on Russell Street condemned by students as unfit for living. Brecht, a transfer student from the University of Wisconsin, said UMass guaranteed continental breakfast, room cleaning services and free reliable transportation to campus. Yet Brecht explained the accommodations he received were not what UMass promised: the breakfast consisted of an unchanged basket of muffins, the room cleaning stopped halfway through the semester and the bus did not always stop for students.

“This is happening because the university doesn’t care about the students. They care about the money,” Brecht said. “And it would have cost more for them to put us in the hotel right there on campus because they would have lost out on the prices they would have gotten from parents staying here.”

Johnny Rasnic, an organizer with the Graduate Employee Organization, said 75 percent of graduate students at UMass are rent burdened. The rent at University Village housing on North Pleasant Street rent costs over 70 percent of a graduate student’s monthly income. Graduate students also must take care of their families on top of work, classes and research.

“It’s completely unsustainable and if it’s the supposed mission of UMass to support academic research in a top-notch academic research facility, how can it be possible that they expect heads of families to go to grad school, pay 70% of income and somehow be able to put out high-quality research?” Rasnic said.

Salvesen said UMass’s lack of housing pushes students into Amherst, Hadley and Northampton, displacing current residents and increasing homelessness in the Pioneer Valley. 

“We should not have to choose between living in underfunded housing that we may or may not get, that we overpay for, to push thousands of people across the Pioneer Valley into homelessness,” Salvesen said.  

Protesters ended the event chanting, “What do we want? Fair housing! When do we want it? Now!” and “Greystar has got to go!” The YDSA also passed out a survey to gather information on students’ housing grievances. Cohen said the results of the survey will shape the demands for another housing protest in a month.

Contact Emilee and Isabel at their emails: [email protected] and [email protected]

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